Glaciers, mini-golf and a lot of cold air!

Trip Start Sep 23, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wanaka is a beautiful little town on the shores of its eponymous lake. It is known for being a haven of peace and tranquility. Except for New Year, when all the hoons from Dunedin and Invercargill descend upon it, being loud and driving too fast. The queue of teenagers outside Subway seemed to go round the block- so we headed upstairs to the Reef, where we dined on enormous platters of delicious prawns and scrumptious sticky toffee pudding and got very full indeed.
Our first day was quiet, spent wandering along the lake front, dodging the showers and the boy racers. On the second day, we followed the lake round to Mount Aspiring National Park. Driving along metal roads, we forded streams, and enjoyed the onmipresent waterfalls.
The omnipresent cloud was also still hanging about, acting like curtains which occasionally twitched aside to give us a peak of the snow sprinkled mountains.

Mum and Dad opted to follow the valley path, and Rick and I made the steady climb through an intersecting valley to reach the Rob Roy Glacier. We crossed a swing bridge and headed through the fern-filled forest, with a river swirling below us and fantails flitting about. Eventually we reached the head of the valley, surrounded by an amphitheater of sheer rock walls. Ahead of us, danging over the top, was the turquoise and white face of the Rob Roy Glacier. To the left, waterfalls poured down the cliff face, above us to the right were huge fields of snow and ice. We perched on a large rock to enjoy the view and eat our lunch, until the local kea gang decided that our cheese sandwiches looked rather appealing. The birds had their theivery down to a fine art, and were very organised about it. One would hop towards me, and whilst I was fending it off a second or third would sneak behind in a pincer movement to try and purloin my sandwiches, my rucksack, or anything else going (I was probably lucky that they didn't try to steal Rick). Waving a trekking pole at them worked quite well, and they temporarily flapped off to find other people to molest. Rick had fallen afoul (or should that be afowl?) of these birds once before- a kea had managed to unzip the back pocket of his trousers. It was probably after his credit card.

After finishing lunch (yes, we managed to keep it all) and soaking in the grandeur for a little longer, we headed back to the car park. This was the sign for the clouds to announce the grand finale, pulling the curtain back to reveal some stunning mountain views.

The following morning, our intentions of going sailing on the lake were scuppered by an intensely cold blasting wind. We set off down to Queenstown for New Year's Eve, stopping at Arrowtown along the way. This was a chocolate box-pretty gold mining town, cashing in on the tourist rush now that the gold rush has passed. The buildings were almost too picturesque to be true, nestled picturesquely beneath the mountains. The jeweller's displayed some of the locally found nuggets, and the sweet shop was full of jars of old-fashioned sweets and delicious fudge. We wandered up to the old Chinese settlement to see reconstructions of the dark, cramped and probably fudgeless huts where the prospectors would have lived. Then it was on down a series of hairpin bends to Lake Wakatipu, and the settlement of Queenstown.

Mum and Dad headed across on the lake on a beautiful old steamship, the TSS Earnslaw. Rick and I had done this trip before, and decided to forgo culture and heritage for the lure of extreme mini golf. Caddyshack City has to be at the forefront of minigolf excitement. Our balls made their way through castles and graveyards, rode a ski lift for a downhill race, whizzed through a roaring volcano, braved the buzzsaw at the saw mill and finally ended up at the sweet factory where they were swapped for lolly pops. It was an edge-of-your-seat rush of thrills (and in case you were wondering- Rick won).

Eventually, we emerged, blinking, into the sunshine. The weather was at risk of getting warm, so we all donned Ugg boots, gloves and thick winter coats and headed down into Minus 5, the ice bar. Everything from the walls to the bar was made of ice, and the room was filled with fun ice sculptures. The glasses were made of ice, so no ice cubes needed, and the cocktails were very nice. We felt deliciously warm when we left again, to get the gondola up to the Skyline restaurant. We had amazing views across Lake Wakitipu and the Remarkables, and sipped Lindauer and cocktails as the sun went down. At midnight, we went up to the viewing area and watched the fireworks exploding in the town down below us. 

The first day of the new year saw me and Rick getting up early to be fitted into multicooured jumpsuits. We were greeting 2007 by going skydiving. Luckily the weather had made a new year's resolution (or maybe drank too much and was sleeping in); there was no wind and the sun was out. After being tightly straped into harnesses, we were talked through the basics of skydiving, then packed sardine-like into the back of an aeroplane with four instructors and a French couple. We spiralled upwards, with beautiful views of th mounains and lakes. As we ascended, I got more and more excited, and Rick got more and more nauseous. At 9000 feet the French couple jumped out, dropping like stones. The door closed for us to continue ascending, and at 12000 feet it was our turn. We were strapped to our instructors and a rather pale Rick shuffled forwards. His legs dangled over the edge into thin air and- woosh!- he was gone. I was suprised how confident I felt about the whole thing. We moved to the door, and suddenly I was tumbling away. The world spun for a few seconds, but I didn't feel the lurch in my stomach that I'd been expecting, and soon we stabilised and I could take in the spectacular view. Mount Aspiring was protruding dagger like through the cloud, and far to the north Mount Cook was clearly visable. Beneath me the bright blue thread of the Clutha Rver glistened as it wound its way through the green plains, and turquoise Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea sparkled. The air rushed against my face and roared in my ears as I plummeted, but we were so high up the speed of our descent was barely noticeable. After about 45 seconds in freefall, my instructor pulled the ripcord, our parachute opened, and we drifted downwards in lazy circles, with the occasional spin just for fun. Rick had a more leisurely descent, ad we were first down to the airfield. Rick turned up, grinning- he had thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and we were both exhilerated as we headed back into town.

For the afternoon, we decided to make the most of the glorious weather and hired a catermeran on the lake. It was beautiful, blue water and blue skies, with the mountains before us. We sped across the lake, taking turns to take the tiller. Getting back to shore became problematic as the wind kept changing direction, and dying altogether, but we made it in the end and sprawled out in the sun to dry off.      
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